Luminarias light the way to Relay

Published 8:35 pm Saturday, February 12, 2011

Luminarias light up the night at a Relay event. Relay participants can purchase luminarias for $10 each to honor cancer survivors or remember loved ones who have passed away from the disease.

This Valentine’s Day, consider getting a candle for someone you love.

This wouldn’t be any ordinary candle, though — it would be lit on the night of Suffolk’s Relay for Life to honor a cancer survivor or remember a loved one who has passed on.

The luminaria ceremony hasn’t always been part of the American Cancer Society’s signature fundraising event, but it now is as closely tied with Relay as the survivors’ lap and the color purple.

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“I think that the luminaria portion is the best part of the Relay,” said Anne Barclay, community manager for American Cancer Society. “It really brings it all home why we’re there. The bags represent not only survivors, but people that we’ve lost. It reminds you we have a lot more work to do.”

People purchase luminarias before the event or at the site for a suggested donation of $10. They honor a cancer survivor or remember someone who has died from cancer by writing their name on a paper bag, which is then filled with sand to serve as a base for the candle.

Once it gets dark, the luminarias are placed around the Relay track in alphabetical order. People who purchased a luminaria can light it during the ceremony.

“It’s pretty emotional,” Barclay said. “There’s people standing there and grieving and crying. It’s so touching.”

New this year, Barclay said, participants can purchase tiki torches to be lit during the ceremony for a suggested donation of $50 each. Each comes with a purple and white, engraved plaque with the name of the person being honored.

“The person that purchases those can keep those,” Barclay said. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Also recently, the Relay has added a pet luminaria program for people to remember pets they’ve lost to cancer.

The luminaria ceremony is often referred to as the Ceremony of Hope. Barclay said it can be a powerful moment for people still working through the pain of their own battle or of losing a loved one.

“It’s a way they can honor them and celebrate them and memorialize them,” Barclay said.

Luminarias can be purchased online here. The Suffolk Rockin’ Relay for Life will be held May 13-14 at Bennett’s Creek Park.